The real reason you don't hear from Bob Costas anymore

For 24 years, Bob Costas was the prime-time anchor for NBC Sports, covering the NBA, the NFL, and everything in between. Along the way, he racked up a staggering 28 Emmy Awards while establishing himself as one of the preeminent sports broadcasters of our time. He was especially known for his coverage of the Olympics, perhaps most notably in recent memory at Sochi in 2014, when his pink eye infection somewhat sidelined him.

Since then, he's announced his quasi-retirement, promising he wouldn't just disappear to the golf course, but rather take the time to focus on projects that are more personal to him. However, Costas' absence at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang has certainly been felt. 

So what is the veteran sports anchor up to today, and what can we expect from him in the future? Let's find out.

He's in his 'Brokaw phase'

In February 2017, Costas announced on Today that he was "passing the torch" (Get it?) to another veteran broadcaster, Mike Tirico, who already had a couple decades under his belt over at ESPN. In his parting remarks, Costas praised the network he called home for so many years and joked that NBC referred to this transition as "the Brokaw phase of my career." He added, "So I will be to sports what Tom has been for the last several years to news," which is to say he will serve as a special correspondent, as Brokaw does, popping up for large-scale events like elections and major cultural happenings.

But Costas wanted to make it clear that he wasn't ready to jump on a boat and fish away his days until the old folks' home comes calling. He also told Today (via USA Today), "This doesn't mean retirement or even anything close to it. It opens up more time to do the things that I feel I'm most connected to," which includes continuing his gig with the MLB Network and developing "long-form programming."

Sacking the NFL

Costas has long been a critic of the sport of football, particularly when it comes to discussing the NFL's handling of pervasive brain injury issues. 

During an appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher, Costas stopped short of agreeing — unless you count a silent nod — with Maher's comparison of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to the mayor from Jaws (who denied Amity Island had a shark problem,) but Costas did say that NFL players' brains during collisions were "rattling around inside the skull like a pickle inside a jar."

Perhaps Costas' most incendiary commentary on the gridiron sport came during remarks he made at the University of Maryland (via USA Today) when he said, "The reality is that this game destroys people's brains." He even took it a step further, saying the more information that comes out via the NFL's research on "the dangers of the sport," the worse it will get as parents begin to "connect the dots" and conclude that it's simply not safe for anyone under the age of 18 to play tackle football. "I certainly would not let, if I had an athletically gifted 12- or 13-year-old son, I would not let him play football," Costas said.

Granted, everyone is entitled to their opinion, especially when it comes to parenting decisions, but for the outgoing sports anchor of a major network to publicly drag such a cash cow of a  franchise (NBC carries NFL games on Thursday and Sunday nights,) it goes without saying that he may have ruffled some major feathers.  

Why wasn't he at Super Bowl LII?

As part of his quasi-retirement announcement, Costas said he would to do one last Super Bowl, in part to give an assist to Tirico, who would already be in Pyeongchang prepping for the upcoming Olympics. But come game time on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018, Costas was not in the anchor chair for NBC.

Of course, the rumor mill immediately lurched into motion, pointing directly at Costas' rhetoric against not only the game of football, but the NFL's handling of the chronic brain injury crisis. 

Costas dismissed the scuttlebutt, telling The Associated Press (via USA Today), "Dan [Patrick] and Liam [McHugh] have done the job hosting NBC's NFL coverage all season. It wouldn't be right for me to parachute in and do the Super Bowl."

But just one day later, Costas changed his tune considerably, telling Sports Business Daily that he has "long had ambivalent feelings about football, so at this point, it's better to leave the hosting to those who are more enthusiastic about it." 

When later "pressed" by the New York Post about his big game absence, Costas finally confessed that his attitude about it was, "If you need me to do it and you have something you want me to do, I'll do it. If you don't need me to do it, no problem." He then reiterated how "gracious," "appreciative," and "respectful" both he and NBC are toward one other, but at this point, the media seems dead-set on portraying their interactions like a quiet couple fight happening behind a closed bedroom door at a dinner party.

He's being paid a ton to not do much

In the same New York Post interview where he basically shaded the most profitable broadcast a network could hope to have all year, Costas revealed that his contract with NBC runs for "years." That vague length of time seems to jive with his new broadcasting duties, which as far as the Post could tell, basically dictates that Costas is making "seven figures (possibly eight) to work the Kentucky Derby, maybe fill in on some events and appear on special shows."

That's a lot of scratch for a retirement gig, especially one in which you're apparently allowed to drag one of the company's top-selling products. It would be sort of like a former landscaper working at Home Depot in his retirement years and telling everyone that walks through the door that the bags of mulch are cheaper at Lowes.

He no longer holds a torch for the Olympics

Costas' is best known for being the face and voice of the Olympics for NBC. Over the course of his career, he anchored a record 11 consecutive prime-time Olympic games for the peacock network.

Speaking with The New York Times, Costas said he felt the Rio Olympics in the summer of 2016 were an appropriate swan song for him, particularly since he was to preside over both Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt's retirement performances. He also said, "I wasn't getting bored by it, but over time the formats changed a bit. At the beginning it was more freewheeling and there were more spaces for me to contribute. And it became more tightly formatted as the years went by."

With the general shift in news coverage — Olympics included — toward viral moments, instant memes, and quick clips and soundbites easily shared on social media, a long-form veteran like Costas found himself increasingly out of touch. After all, how would one distill the beauty of Costas' contentious half-hour showdown with Vince McMahon on his HBO series Costas Now into just one GIF? It's simply not possible.  

The rockstar approach

In July 2018, Costas will receive the prestigious Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence during the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum awards presentation. It is an extremely high honor, shared by only 41 broadcasters before him, and it's awarded for "commitment to excellence, quality of broadcasting abilities, reverence within the game, popularity with fans, and recognition by peers," according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame's official website.    

The decision was announced in December 2017, but the award ceremony won't take place until July 2018. Maybe Costas is trying to keep a low profile until then in order to build up a little mystique, as opposed to appearing constantly on everyone's TV, then showing up for a hugely congratulatory lifetime achievement award.

Think about it: If Guns N' Roses could show up to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 to rapturous applause — even with Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin MIA — after two straight decades of failing to record new music, breaking up, and repeatedly disappointing fans with cancelled and/or terrible shows, surely Costas could muster up a little of that nostalgic goodwill with a short sabbatical from the spotlight.  

He's become more politically divisive

Calling out the NFL on its management issues is one thing. After all, Costas is a sports broadcaster and arguably one of the greatest of all time, but he definitely crossed the line from objectively reporting facts when he went after President Donald Trump's handling of Colin Kaepernick's controversial kneeling protest, which sought to open a dialogue about police brutality against minorities.  

During a September 2017 CNN appearance (transcribed by Time), Costas let loose on the leader of the free world, calling Trump's bold stance in opposition to the protest "tone deaf to the racial implications of this." He also described the president's remarks on the matter as "cheap applause lines" and agreed with CNN's Alisyn Camerota, who said there was "something contagious about divisiveness" in regards to how Trump allegedly fanned the flames of discord over the protest issue.

What this adds up to is a departure, albeit an expected one, from Costas' previous broadcast demeanor, which admittedly always had a twinge of socio-political commentary but was never so bold as to lambast someone like the President of the United States. Sure, Costas likely wouldn't have taken too much of a hit from this, even he had not already announced his departure, but lesser sports broadcasting figures, such as Jemele Hill, have been torn down for similar remarks.   

NBC's choice of replacement says a lot

Though both NBC and Costas have repeatedly downplayed any animosity between them, Costas' replacement, Tirico, apparently felt the need to distinguish his broadcasting style from his predecessor in terms of editorial discretion. 

Speaking with Sports Business Daily, Tirico said, "I'm much more a believer of 'Here are the facts, you decide.'" He even named-dropped Costas, saying, "I don't want to say (more) than Bob, but just in general, that's my approach to most of these things. You don't see me in 27, 28 years doing a lot of commentary within sports on 'The NFL should do this,' or 'How dare the NBA.'" The NFL reference was particularly noteworthy in the context of Costas' stinging rebukes of the league, of which NBC has long been silently tolerant. 

Is Tirico, who is generally regarded as a stalwart yet less dynamic sportscaster than Costas, part of a strategic shift on behalf of the network to temper Costas, or is he just a guy who love sports for the purity of the games? Can't it be both? And if that's the case, consider the awkward position in which that leaves Costas to continue his work, as sporadic as it may be.